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Witness this photo of Old Jerusalem-a portrait of Israeli women on the march, a quintessential moment when sun and silver come together, and capture the hope of a people, and the pen of Lord Byron:
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
It is hard for me to wax objectively on this picture. Over thirty years ago, I traveled the middle east, and except for time, and more wars, nothing has changed in the continued clash of cultures.
I entered Israel from Jordan, after traveling through Turkey and Syria. On the smoke-belching train from Damascus, a Syrian asked where I was going, and when I said Israel, he made a cutting motion across his throat. At customs, the Israelis would not stamp my passport, because if I exited through a Muslim country, my visa would be looked at with suspicion. At the border, a fellow American became enraged at the Israeli agent, flipping him off because he took my camera, and without asking, cocked and clicked the shutter. It did not dawn on us in a sympathetic way that the guard (with his shoulder-slung Uzi) had a right to forego etiquette in his search for the reality of bombs.
I have to admit, after traveling through Muslim countries, that entering Israel seemed like a breath of fresh air, like stepping into the sun; I could go into a bar, talk to a woman, not feel like an infidel; not feel like I was tiptoeing through a minefield full of potential cultural and religious taboos. The Jewish people, having been on the receiving end of centuries-old pogroms and prejudicial struggles, were tolerant to travelers. I did love traveling through the Muslim world, too; there were just more barriers in beliefs, customs, and language for a Westerner to overcome. I remember it taking longer to get waited on in a cafe; having to haggle to enter a Turkish bath, because as a non-Muslims, I was "unclean". I am sure it is reciprocal; Muslims feel like second class citizens in some Western countries.
But back to the photo; several raven-haired beauties are breaking rank, and obviously glancing my way, perhaps attracted by my American presence, my stepping in front, and pointing a camera. Who knows what thoughts these olive-skinned women entertain?--maybe running off to a kibbutz, and playing pastoral flutes, by the bleating flock, under Palestinian stars. The paradoxical beat of their boots upon the sandstone is riveting. Ah, the intoxicating Torah ring tones! Irresistible soldiers, they seem to me; I would gladly surrender, lay down my arms, and confess secrets; perhaps even desert my post. Big deal; I can always immigrate back to the U.S. (after all, we are a nation of immigrants), and repatriate some other day, like manana day. Leon Uris, here I come! Ugly American in the Promised Land!
Wait a minute, I'm not Jewish! This isn't West Side Story! And she's not Maria! She's not even Jennifer Beal in Flashdance! Who cares?--She looks like it! Look at that fine-boned face! I can convert! Nero did! So did Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and Whitney! That's it! I will set cultural differences aside. I will be a blazing Palestine pioneer. Maybe one mesmerizing photo does have the power to change humanity. Maybe the Mujahedeen, Hamas, and Fatah will follow suit, and fancy the women in this photo as their family, and follow for the sake of forgiveness and felicity, the hoary Abraham of Jewish persuasion. In return, Jews can convert to Islam, Christians can cross over, maybe a Zoroaster or two will join the dance, under the same tent, in the desert together, tending to the bloom of a borderless brotherhood. Oh, mankind, just a megapixel away!
What did you say? Take another look at the photo? The women are looking for what? A gun? They want to see if I'm a whacked out terrorist? Hey, c'mon, man! You're raining on my parade! What about my theory? What about my Pulitzer portrait? What about hosanna on high? Now you've done it! You've jack-booted my Israeli orchids into oblivion! Ok, so my theory sucks! You're right! If Jews converted to Islam, and Muslims to Jews, they'd still be fighting each other, for all the wrong reasons! A mirror-image mirage!But my picture, man: that's the problem with photography; you spend all your time with a camera stuck to your forehead, and don't see what you saw, until it gets developed. But those women; I'm going to take another look. I'm not so sure about the gun. The tall one with curves--she is definitely looking. Don't ruin my moment! If anybody knows her, please tell her to call.